Enjoying the Ride: Student Balances Professional Cycling, College Education

As the world’s most famous bike race wraps up in France and the Olympics get under way, an ACC student is riding a road that may lead there in the years to come.

20-year-old Lawson Craddock is a professional cyclist with Bontrager Livestrong, an Austin-based team that competes around the globe. He’s one of the sport’s rising stars, with multiple national titles under his belt. He trains and races in Europe, and this spring, Craddock rode in the prestigious Tour of California. USA Cycling, the governing body for competitive cycling in the United States, considers him part of “the future of American cycling.”

ACC student Lawson Craddock takes a break from a training ride in downtown Austin. Photo by Kelly Hanes

But Craddock is preparing for more than his future on the bike.

“Education is extremely important,” says Craddock, sitting at a café in downtown Austin during a break from a training ride. “It’s good to have a plan beyond the sport. And education helps you become a more well-rounded person.”

Craddock – the son of a small business owner and a CPA – grew up in Houston. Inspired by his father, a professional downhill racer in the early 1990s, he did his first race at the age of 10. As his cycling career blossomed, Craddock’s parents made clear that his education couldn’t take a back seat.

“That’s one thing they pushed since I started cycling,” he explains. “I couldn’t go out and ride a bike unless I finished all my homework.”

Craddock graduated in the top five percent of his high school class and made plans to go to college in Austin in order to train alongside his coach, Dave Wenger. He and Wenger decided ACC and its extensive Distance Learning options would best accommodate Craddock’s rigorous training and racing schedule.

“For athletes of Lawson’s age and talent, school is necessary,” says Wenger. “Some of the oldest professional athletes in cycling are 37 to 40 years old, still plenty young to make a huge impact in the world outside of what they can do on two wheels.”

Craddock first enrolled at ACC in fall 2010, learning to balance the rigors of college with the demands of racing. He typically spends at least 18 hours a week on the bike, riding about 400 miles.

“It took me a few weeks to kind of get into it and get a good system down,” he recalls. “You have to set aside time every day, an hour reading a book or studying, taking notes. Just set aside part of every day to take care of your work.”

He started his college career with classes at Rio Grande Campus; when the team trained in Belgium, he registered for Distance Learning courses. The courses called for him to study, do homework, and take quizzes online, and he returned to Austin to take his tests. It’s something Craddock says is supported by his team director.

“There are three riders on the team who go to college; I’m one of them,” notes Craddock. “School definitely helps keep your mind stimulated while you’re racing, which is really important. When I’m going to school, I notice a lot more better days on the bike and a lot better races as well.”

The proof is in the results. This spring, Craddock won a stage and placed fifth overall in New Mexico’s Tour of Gila. He placed in the top 10 on two stages of the Tour of California and recently won the silver medal at the under-23 national time trial championships. In July, Craddock placed third in the Cascade Cycling Classic in Oregon, and he’s preparing for the International Cycling Union (UCI) world championships in Holland this September. He’ll also return to ACC in the fall to continue his core curriculum studies. Craddock plans to earn a degree in business.

“My dad owns his own roofing business in Houston. Ever since I was a little kid, I kind of skipped the whole astronaut/fireman dream and just kind of always wanted to be involved with Craddock Roofing,” he says. “We’ll see where cycling takes me, but that’s kind of where I want to end up in life – doing what my dad does.”

Update: At the recent Tour of Utah, Craddock earned fourth place on Stage 1 and the honor of wearing the Best Young Rider Jersey. Click here to see a photo from the event.

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